I am proud of my Commander-in-Chief tonight. However, whenever public tragedy occurs, I am always conflicted. 18 veterans a day commit suicide, countless other non-veterans pass silently away into the night, murdered, killed, passed because they could not access their needs, and how many more troops killed today or last week? I don’t want to be a cynic, I want to mourn, but after awhile, it gets difficult.
This evening, I had intended to write a short blog about the launch of the Veterans Expeditions Colorado Endurance Mountain Biking Team. However, due to the unfortunate events in Tucson, AZ this past weekend, and Obama’s speech not just to the immediate mourners, but to the nation, I am moved to write about this public tragedy. Normally, we at Vet-Ex focus our blogs, our work, and our website, on getting veterans outdoors, challenging those, like us, who have been warriors, to be warriors again. And because of that, the question is constantly asked, “But why do you do it?”
I will admit that in the past days and weeks, as I have struggled through my own issues with depression, post traumatic stress, and the struggles of trying to start an organization in an uncertain economic time while looking for a job with the flexibility to keep working on Vet Ex, I have asked myself the same question.
This evening, listening to my Commander-in-Chief, I was reminded again why. We do what we do, because every time a service member get’s killed on the battlefield, or moments or years after he or she steps out of uniform and back on to civilian street, and loses his or her life, from suicide, violent or reckless behavior, and today we are losing 18 veterans a day to suicide alone, the President does not speak. Thousands do not gather together in university stadiums, all the television stations do not focus in on the event, and the pundits do not battle with words in the blogosphere and on networks as to the meaning of the deaths of men like SGT Vacho or CPT Freeman, or a LTC, who was an Army veterinarian, a real vet’s vet. As I write, while I can recall conversations, his laugh, his handshake, his easy manner, and even the letter I wrote home to his family, his name frustratingly, angrily, escapes me. The expedition becomes that stadium for us, a place to begin to heal or to continue to heal and move on and to help others do the same.
We do what we do because it gives veterans an opportunity to remember the one’s they have lost on the field of battle, to be warriors, and to celebrate and to mourn the lifestyles as Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen, we chose, or had chosen for us in defense of our nation amongst other veterans.
Like Ian Smith said on our Longs Peak climb, “For a few days, they who had become cold distant memories, were laughing, and climbing right with me.” We give an opportunity to non-veterans and veterans alike to help others remember the public servants lauded in this evenings speech that put on the uniform, and every day bravely faced the challenge and clear awareness that an act of violence could take their lives. Every step, every paddle, and every pedal becomes both a mourning, and a celebration.
I recognize that its difficult to mourn everyday, to be reminded of the constant tragedy, the constant fear, the constant bad news, and that it is easier to just shut off or to turn to hate or rhetoric or fantasy. Events like tonight’s, allow us to be reminded of bad things in an acceptable way and to insert our own losses into the framework of the Nation and reflect back on our own lives. For me, there are literally hundreds of daily triggers that make me think back to brothers and sisters lost, both in arms and out, and of those struggling. Everyday, I mourn.
The theme of this particular blog is a familiar one to those who know me well. I have been told that regardless of the situation, I can make it about veterans, and I can make everyone around me feel guilty. That is not my point. I have been asked if I think veterans and veteran issues are somehow better than other group’s interests, and I do not, we all suffer.
I do, however, believe, that veterans’ issues serve as a sort of broader exoskeleton to National issues and to our society as a whole. If we can get the way we treat our veterans right, your veterans right, we can probably figure out how to do the rest of the work as well.
As veterans we are every race, we are every gender, we are, and were long before DADT, every sexual preference, we are recent immigrants, we are children of illegal immigrants and families who came with the Mayflower. We are children whose family came to these lands when the first ice sheets first melted and if you think you are in the most narrow of demographic groups in America, I guarantee one of us knew one of you in the military, and you asked us to protect you and defend you, and we did our best and some of us never came home, despite our bodies in front of you.
So in light of the tragedy in Arizona, join with us as you join with them, mourn with us, as you mourn with them, and celebrate. Join us on the trail, join us in the river, and bring a veteran with you, or get a veteran to the trail head, in spirit, in memory, in body and not only mourn, but celebrate with us, and the lives of the men and women who have routinely stood in front of senseless violence.